Compelling popular science with an ambitious underlying theme.

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING (ABRIDGED)

ADVENTURES IN MATH AND SCIENCE

Two veteran science writers address a host of big concepts.

Geneticist Rutherford and mathematician Fry begin by describing a library whose books contain every possible combination of letters, spaces, commas, and periods. “Every possible” means “infinite,” so the library would fill far more than the cosmos. Infinity is a fascinating concept, vividly explained by many authors. Rutherford and Fry, however, employ it as a metaphor for the complexity of the universe, the difficulty of communication, the evolution of language, and the mechanics of Darwinian evolution. In the chapters that follow, the authors answer intriguing, if often oddball questions. What would an alien look like? Deeply unimaginative, Hollywood gives us either humanlike beings with swollen heads or “insectoid, human-sized, phallic-headed, acid-blooded, armour plated” monsters. The authors emphasize that almost all earthly life is tiny; bacteria dominate. The total mass of plants is vastly larger than that of animals. Basic science reveals that on any planet, flying creatures will have wings; living in liquid, they’ll be torpedo-shaped; on land, they’ll have legs, maybe four, six, or more. Some readers may be surprised to learn that two-legged animals are rare. Telling time seems straightforward, but it’s actually quite complicated. An earthly day is not only not 24 hours long; an average day is not 24 hours either. The sloshing of the Earth’s liquid core, the tug of the moon and planets, and even winds make the time of one earthly rotation “totally unpredictable.” Atomic clocks are the most accurate time-keepers, losing “less than a second every 15 billion years.” Throughout history, predicting the end of the world has been irresistible; surveys today reveal that 1 in 7 people think it will happen during their lifetime. After an amusing review of doomsday cults, the authors reveal the facts: The sun is slowly getting hotter and will render the Earth uninhabitable in roughly 1 billion years.

Compelling popular science with an ambitious underlying theme.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-393-88157-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A powerful melding of image and text inspired by Instagram yet original in its execution.

A BOOK OF DAYS

Smith returns with a photo-heavy book of days, celebrating births, deaths, and the quotidian, all anchored by her distinctive style.

In 2018, the musician and National Book Award–winning author began posting on Instagram, and the account quickly took off. Inspired by the captioned photo format, this book provides an image for every day of the year and descriptions that are by turns intimate, humorous, and insightful, and each bit of text adds human depth to the image. Smith, who writes and takes pictures every day, is clearly comfortable with the social media platform—which “has served as a way to share old and new discoveries, celebrate birthdays, remember the departed, and salute our youth”—and the material translates well to the page. The book, which is both visually impactful and lyrically moving, uses Instagram as a point of departure, but it goes well beyond to plumb Smith’s extensive archives. The deeply personal collection of photos includes old Polaroid images, recent cellphone snapshots, and much-thumbed film prints, spanning across decades to bring readers from the counterculture movement of the 1960s to the present. Many pages are taken up with the graves and birthdays of writers and artists, many of whom the author knew personally. We also meet her cat, “Cairo, my Abyssinian. A sweet little thing the color of the pyramids, with a loyal and peaceful disposition.” Part calendar, part memoir, and part cultural record, the book serves as a rich exploration of the author’s fascinating mind. “Offered in gratitude, as a place to be heartened, even in the basest of times,” it reminds us that “each day is precious, for we are yet breathing, moved by the way light falls on a high branch, or a morning worktable, or the sculpted headstone of a beloved poet.”

A powerful melding of image and text inspired by Instagram yet original in its execution.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-44854-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2022

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